Want to learn more about Uttanasana, aka Forward Fold Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Uttanasana, plus a complete yoga pose breakdown, contraindications, modifications and more.
Uttanasana is so much more than a simple forward fold. When flexibility allows, it becomes a very intense pose with hands flat on the ground behind the feet. This is why it’s sometimes called Intense Forward Fold. The pose name should remind students that this is a very active pose – it’s so much more than folding forward and simply hanging out there.
Uttanasana — like all yoga poses — gives back to you as much as you put into it. Even if it appears to be simple or basic, by putting in your best effort each time you practice it, you will get so much back.
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Uttanasana Quick Facts
|Sanskrit||Uttanasana / Hasta Padasana|
|English||Forward Fold Pose|
|Meaning||Ut means intense. |
Tan means to stretch.
And when they’re combined, uttana means intense stretch.
Asana means pose or posture.
The pose name literally translates as Intense Stretch Pose.
I often call it Intense Forward Fold in class.
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Uttanasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Uttanasana include:
- Stretches hamstrings, calves, and gluteal muscles.
- Strengthens quads, hip flexors, abdominals, and knee joints.
- May help lower high blood pressure.
- Elongates the spine when done with proper alignment.
- Helps improve flexibility of hips.
- Helps to strengthen ankle joints.
- Can help to improve overall balance.
- Students can find release in the upper, mid, and lower back when practicing Uttanasana with proper alignment.
- Can help relieve tension the the neck.
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
- If you have herniated vertebral discs, do not bend forward completely. Instead place your hands on yoga blocks, the wall or a yoga chair. See Modifications below.
- If you have sciatica, bend your knees to protect your lower back.
- Hamstring injuries can cause discomfort in this pose. Instead of keeping legs straight, bend your knees.
- If you have an abdominal hernia, modify by using a wall or yoga blocks.
- If you have high blood pressure, move into the pose gradually and do not stay in the pose very long. As an alternative, practice Ardha Uttanasana instead of the full forward fold.
- If you have low blood pressure, bringing your head below your heart can cause lightheadedness when standing up again. Stand up very slowly from the pose, making sure you breathe steadily. As an alternative, practice Ardha Uttanasana instead of the full forward fold.
- If you are in the late-second or third trimester of pregnancy, you will likely want to practice Uttanasana with your feet wide enough apart so that your belly is not pressing into your thighs. You may also want place you hands on the seat of a chair to limit the fold and do an Ardha Uttanasana variation.
- If you have a detached retina, it is not advisable to bring your head below your heart.
Misconceptions & Myths About Forward Fold Pose
It is often said that Forward Fold is one of the ancient yoga poses because a pose called Uttanasana appears in the Sritattvanidhi. First of all, this text was written in the 19th century, so that wouldn’t come close to making it “ancient” in relation to the history of India.
Also, let’s take a look at how the pose is described in the Sritattvanidhi:
Having made the body like a corpse, keep the knees together and bring them up to the navel. Wrap the arms around the neck and rock back and forth.”from the Sritattvanidhi, 19th Century Yoga text
As you can see, it’s nothing like the pose we call Uttanasana today.
The Uttansana we know and love actually seems to be a more modern addition to the asana practice. It is found in Krishnamacharya‘s book from 1934, the Yoga Makaranda, as well as in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, published in 1966.
Uttanasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Uttanasana / Forward Fold Pose
- Stand in Tadasana with your feet hip-distance apart. For a more advanced version of Uttanasana bring your feet together.
- Stretch your arms up and overhead and stretch your body before folding forward.
- Fold forward and place your hands (fingertips or palms flat) on the ground. If you can keep your legs straight and touch the ground (without your back rounding excessively) then do. If your back rounds or you cannot touch the ground, bend your knees until you can touch the ground. See Modifications below.
- Push down and forward with your hands to help move your chest back towards your thighs.
- Lengthen through all sides of your neck. Stretch long through your spine. Move your shoulders away from your ears.
- Squeeze your legs towards each other, push down through your feet, and lift through your sit bones. This is Uttanasana.
- If you can keep your legs straight and your hands are flat on the ground, you can walk your hands beside your feet. When you can easily place your hands flat on the ground beside your feet, you can take the pose further by walking your hands behind your feet.
- To come out, place your hands on your waist, bend your knees a little, and stand up. Tadasana makes a good counter pose to the Forward Fold.
Note: The final form of the pose is done with feet together. However, feet hip distance apart is more accessible. It allows for more movement in the pelvis to fold forward, which helps create more space for lengthening your hamstrings.
Modifications & Variations
If your hands don’t reach the ground with straight legs:
- Don’t worry! This is perfectly normal and very common.
- The problem is that practicing the pose without your hands resting on something makes your hamstrings work when they should be releasing – so instead of lengthening your hamstrings, you are strengthening them.
- If your hands don’t reach the ground with legs straight, simply bend your knees until you can touch the ground.
- Another option is to place your hands on two yoga blocks.
- With your hands on the ground or on blocks, your hamstrings have a chance to release and start to lengthen.
If your feet turn out:
- Place a yoga block between your thighs and squeeze the block as your come into Uttanasana. This will help you build strength in your inner thighs (adductor muscles) which will help prevent your feet from turning out.
If your back rounds:
- Bend your knees and bring your hands down to the ground. Work to lift through your sit bones, which will lengthen your hamstrings over time. It will also help you bring your pelvis into “neutral”, so you can work towards keeping the natural curves of your spine instead of a round back.
If balance is difficult:
- Separate your feet wider than hip width, and place a yoga block between your thighs. This will help build strength, stability and confidence.
If you have a lower back injury:
- If you suffer from herniated vertebral discs or other lower back pain, such as sciatica or pain caused by hypermobility, do not bend forward completely. Instead place your hands on yoga blocks, on the wall, or on the seat or back of a yoga chair.
If you have low blood pressure:
- If you have low blood pressure it is recommended that you do not bring your head below your heart.
- To modify this pose you can use the wall.
- Stand facing the wall and fold forward until your torso is parallel to the ground.
- Place your hands on the wall and push into the wall while pressing your feet into the ground. Keep your head inline with your arms.
- You can also use the seat or back of a yoga chair to support you.
If you have a hamstring injury:
- It can take a long time to heal a hamstring injury so please practice patience. Modify Uttanasana by using a wall.
- Face the wall and fold forward until just before the point of pain in your hamstrings.
- Reach out and place your hands on the wall. Push into the wall while pressing your feet into the ground.
- You can also use the seat or back of a yoga chair to support you.
Yoga Poses Related to Forward Fold Pose
- Prasarita Padottanasana / Wide Leg Forward Fold
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Janu Sirsasana / Forehead to Knee Pose
- Ardha Bhekasana / Half Frog Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Dandasana / Staff Pose
- Parsva Uttanasana / Side Forward Fold
- Parivrtta Uttanasana / Revolved Forward Fold
- Ardha Uttanasana / Half Forward Fold Pose
- Tadasana / Mountain Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold Pose
- Parivrtta Paschimottanasana / Twisted Seated Forward Fold Pose
- Padahastasana / Hand Under Foot Pose
- Padangusthasana / Big Toe Pose
- Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana / Half Bound Lotus Forward Fold
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Downward Dog Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Post: Tadasana Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Video: Uttanasana Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Sustainable Cork Yoga Mat by Corq
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Folding Yoga Chair
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A Final Note About Forward Fold Pose
I recommend that when you first start practicing this pose, you keep your feet at least hip-distance apart. As you become better able to consciously activate your hip flexors, and your hamstrings become more flexible, you can start to bring your feet closer together.
This will help lengthen your hamstrings without injury so that one day you can practice this pose with your feet together and hands flat on the ground. There is no rush though!
Uttanasana just keeps offering more.
Once you can comfortably hold the pose with your legs straight and your hands flat, you can start experimenting with moving your hands beside your feet, and maybe even behind your feet one day.
Forward Fold seems simple but it is a pose that continually asks you for more. It also has so much to offer in return, that it is worth putting in your best effort each and every time you practice it.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Uttanasana. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply — and this is a pose that, with practice, will offer you the opportunity to go very deep inside. The more you can fold in, the more your life adventure will unfold!